Confronting taboos: death and the afterlife, American-style

It is one of those unspoken social contracts that Americans won’t say anything to each other that might indicate any doubt that life as we know it will continue.

If you dare to bring up the subject of climate change, with its attendant erratic weather, major storms, sea-level rises, wildfires and crop losses, people roll their eyes and change the subject.

If you voice any doubt that the economy—local, national and global—will recover, you are dismissed as a negative Pollyanna, and again, the subject is changed.

If you were, just hypothetically, to express the opinion that our increasing reliance on digital technology might have the quality of an unhealthy addiction, and to worry aloud at the effect that all that unrelenting screen time is having on the current generation of tiny tots, you are dismissed as a raving Luddite.

Nobody talks about the fact that both of our political parties are thoroughly corrupt, and our Supreme Court even more so.

No one mentions the disappointment so many of us feel with President Obama, who has proven himself incapable of effectively standing up to Beltway politics—if indeed that was ever his goal.

We are living through a massive period of collective denial of social and physical reality, with no exit in sight from the crazy funhouse we inhabit, with its motto, “Everything is going to be OK” blazoned on every door.

It’s about time we accepted the fact that everything is not going to be OK.

Not by a long shot.

I have been a little bit quieter than usual this past month, with my attention turned to the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, but I have been paying attention nonetheless to what’s going on in the world.

The elephants of Africa are under siege and conservationists are now using the E-word to describe their future.

American bees are dying off at record rates due to pesticide poisoning, which is now not only killing the adults, but also the larva of the bee colonies.

The ice at the poles continues to melt at an accelerated rate, while down in Australia it was by far the hottest summer on record.

Just this week, record rainfall brought flooding to Argentina that killed scores of people.

There will be no escape from the severe weather that our degenerating climate system will wreak upon all of us.

As retiring climate scientist James Hansen has testified over and over, we are already at the tipping point from which there will be no return to what was “normal” for the past 10,000 years.

I totally understand the impetus to denial, because really, what can any of us do about all this?

What should we be doing?

Marching on Washington DC?  Setting up survivalist camps in the wilderness?  Sabotaging pipelines and coal-fired power plants?  Buying hybrid vehicles and solar panels?

Damned if I know.

I am on a list-serve that broadcasts a newsletter written by Alex Kochkin, who focuses more on the spiritual side of our current crisis on Earth.  Kochkin insists that we should not be wasting time worrying about the physical issues here on the planet, but instead should be focusing our attention on getting ready for our transition into the spiritual realm—in other words, for death.

Kochkin predicts that there will be a massive die-off of humanity in the coming years, but he casts this in positive terms, as a necessary cleansing that will enable the Earth to reboot and start on yet another spiritual and evolutionary journey.

Believing firmly in a nonphysical afterlife, he is unafraid of death.

This is so counter-cultural that it gives me pause.

Unafraid of death?  Really?

Our culture is so fixated on avoiding death at all costs that it is hard to wrench my mind around to another way of seeing things.

11857232-life-after-death-religious-concept-illustrationWhat if death were just a transition to another (non-physical) stage of existence?

What if it were in fact the best thing that could happen to our planet if the majority of human beings transitioned out of physical existence?

What if the tenacity with which we Americans hold on to our lives was entirely misplaced?

What if instead of focusing all of our technical and intellectual know-how on physical survival, we began to focus on learning more about the non-physical realms that we have so far relegated to the backward precincts of religion, New Age quackery, and woo-woo tales of near-death experiences?

There is a noticeable trend in popular culture reflecting an uptick in interest in explorations of the spiritual/non-physical dimensions.  From Harry Potter to Twilight and beyond, we have a fascination with stories that can take us beyond the bounds of ordinary physical reality.

So strong is the cultural taboo on discussing this seriously that it is hard for me to push the “publish” button and let this blog post out in the world.

But another part of me rebels and is just done with listening to the soothing murmur of the mainstream: don’t worry, dear, everything is going to be OK….

No, everything is not going to be OK.  Just like the elephants and the bees and the polar bears, human beings are going to face a massive die-off due to the changes in our climate system, and soon.

It is that, above all else, that we should be preparing ourselves for.  How? I am not sure.  But one thing is certain: insisting that all will be well, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is just silly and delusional.

It’s time to wake up.

Leave a comment


  1. Joan Davis

     /  April 3, 2013

    This was a very enlightening post. Would that more people would speak this way. I understand where the author is coming from. I get the same reaction in daily comings and goings when I mention real things that are happening and very few even acknowledge, let alone want to talk about them.

  2. I continue to be in awe of how eloquent you are on these gut-wrenching subjects. I’m not ready yet to give up on mitigating the physical damage we are doing, but certainly one of the root causes of this damage must be the spiritual disconnect we have from our physical roots, both on a global and individual level.

    Somehow, thinking about my mother gives me some comfort when I contemplate these tectonic shifts and the relative insignificance of our lives–not in a warm fuzzy “I want my mommy” way, but in a way that is in keeping with her beliefs. We all were stardust once, and we all will be again.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  April 4, 2013

      I take comfort from this philosophy too. But I am so tuned in to the living beauty of the planet I know and love, I do not want it to vanish, not even into stardust! I have always had a tendency to too much attachment, in Buddhist terms. But maybe that can be a virtue, when it comes to having the motivation to stand up as a defender of the Earth!

  3. suzy

     /  April 4, 2013

    But all WILL be well, J, it just depends how you define that wellness.
    I highly recommend a book that may help to reconcile that issue as well as the question of non-physical realities. Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss is the story of a traditionally raised and trained MD who “discovers” the “afterlife” and things he had zero belief in, in a way that makes it impossible for him to ignore or dispute. He eventually gave up his practice and became an extraordinary teacher and healer.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  April 4, 2013

      Yes, I have read Brian Weiss–perhaps it’s time for me to re-read him, though–

  4. Thank you for speaking about what others won’t. On a slightly positive note, I am at the Inaugural National Forum on Adaptation (for climate change) and there are 500 passionate people working very hard in attempt to save us from ourselves.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  April 4, 2013

      Wonderful! I have been following the plans for this forum with excitement and hope. Please read this morning’s Transition Times post for a more positive perspective, more in synch with the work you are doing, which I totally agree we must ALL be doing!

  5. Gerry

     /  April 4, 2013

    I recently read/skimmed the book “Living in Denial”. It was written by a sociologist who lived for a year in a town in Norway, where skiing is part of their way of life. They know that climate change is real, but they act as if it is not. Denial is not simple, and it’s not just psychological, it’s also sociological. People suppress the knowledge in part due to society’s expectations.

    I personally know people who know climate change is real and who don’t want to talk about it. I think the main reason is that it can be depressing. And I think a common thought is “What can one person do”:

    I am constantly frustrated in my lack of progress in talking to others about climate change.
    It is easy for me to say that the others are to blame. But blame is not constructive. …. There may well be some constructive approach that I have not yet found. I need to work on it.

  6. Hi Jennifer,
    I love this post. I so agree with you. These are desperate times for the environment. Yet the media and many people and most (all?) politicians continue to focus on the short term. People fear a hike of cents in the gasoline tax more than they fear the destruction of the ecosystem that supports our life.
    This probably sounds self-serving (and maybe it is) but I really hope that my novel gets a whole generation really concerned about the environment. The answers are complex. There are no easy answers, but the first step is agreeing that there is a problem and that we have no time to waste. Some people argue that if the public understands how serious the crisis is they will be too discouraged to do anything. I disagree. Knowledge is power. We are going to have to change the way we live. We should begin figuring out how to do that sooner, rather than later.
    At any rate, I appreciate your willingness to address this topic honestly. I am not a pessimist, but I am a realist. I am actually optimistic about the possibility of living better lives as we learn how to heal/ slow down/prevent more environmental destruction.
    I am looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on this.

    • Gerry

       /  April 4, 2013

      The mainstream media is awful, but some alternative media is ok on this subject.

      I find this website of assistance in understanding what Americans think:

      I think the politicians are not as good as the people, due largely to the need for a LOT of money to run election campaigns. But not all politicians. I think Bernie Sanders is good on this issue. I think there are some others as well.

  7. Thanks for the link, Gerry. I also think that Bernie Sanders is good on this issue.

  8. Sergei Kochkin

     /  September 12, 2015

    Having just discovered Alex Kochkin’s work, I attempted to get in touch with him to join this “enlightened” network of people. His insights resonated with me and coincide with some of my epiphanies. Quite frankly I was quite taken aback by his joint suicide with Tish. Do you have any idea what motivated them to check out of “the matrix” in this manner? I was pretty much encouraged with his philosophy of connecting with our highest level of individuated consciousness. Now pretty much discouraged. The final message from Alex appears to be one of hopelessness.

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  September 12, 2015

      I don’t think it’s a sign of hopelessness as much as a readiness to leave the physical and see what comes next. They had been moving that way for a while. If you believe in Spirit, as Alex and Tish did, then death is not something to fear, just another stage of existence…Still, I miss his voice….

  9. Andrea

     /  June 22, 2019

    Sadly I just learned of Alexanders passing on social media. Could someone please enlighten me about his passing. Thank you.


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